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Collaborating… Innovatively

Remember chat rooms?

During the internet’s nascency, volumes of chat rooms materialized covering a copious array of topics for the like-minded, or perhaps the not so like-minded, to meet virtually and engage in rigorous discussion.

America Online (AOL) not only popularized the use of chat rooms, but quickly developed a more personal method of information swapping when they unleashed AOL instant messenger on dial-up internet users.  In fact, according to the Washington Post, “by 1997, the year AOL launched Instant Messenger as a stand-alone chat product the company boasted an estimated 19,000 chatrooms.  Users spent more than a million hours chatting each day.”

Long ago, during in the pre-digital analog era, global inhabitants had been chatting –most likely face to face, prior to the advent of the telephone – for thousands of years; for simple social interaction, information exchange or collaboration.

Now, as part of the Internet of Things (the interconnectedness of software-driven smart devices, cloud computing and networking), chat has become the popular kid in the digital neighborhood.

Why the renewed appeal of digital “chatting”?

Anonymity plays a part, particularly among social players. But the instant media, information and data sharing provides considerable benefits to business users. Last year Fast Company, the American business magazine, reported, “The long-lost chat room is experiencing a renaissance, and social media companies new and old are hoping to capitalize on the trend.” Due to group chat’s rapid and real-time interactive ability, it is no surprise this tool has emerged as a highly effective and functional way for business communication, flow of knowledge and collaboration. Not quite a complete replacement for email, conducting business via group chat does impressively diminish the inbox clog resulting from iterative, replay-all messaging.

Very recently, the Wall Street Journal not only proposed that group chat has surfaced as the hottest thing in IT, but that “chat is becoming the backbone of many businesses, bringing together both people and multiple software programs.”

What this means for supply chain operations.

Imagine an interface that integrates customer and supplier conversations with back-end applications where extended team players can swiftly and effectively resolve business issues with real-time player engagement and file sharing.

For example, you might have a customer who has very specific requirements for a commodity… at the right price. Armed with the right software and data, through real-time participation among customer, procurement, supplier and –if necessary – second tier suppliers, the lowest cost commodity with optimal specifications may be quickly achieved.

It just may just be time to eliminate endless email threads, unreturned phone calls and detached conference call participants.

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Millennials are reshaping the traditional workplace

75.4 million is a pretty big number.

This staggering number represents, as of 2015, the United States’ population of millennials. “Millennials” is the moniker given to the individuals born in the late 80s, 90s, and early 00s.


As a sizable segment of the workforce, millennials are now exerting major influence in the professional realm. More and more organizations are seeking young, digitally-savvy professionals for their ranks – and as a result, millennials are reshaping how business is done. Chief among these changes? A break from the traditional – and sometimes stodgy – workplaces we’ve so long taken for granted.

This is most apparent at today’s leading technology companies, headquartered in West Coast enclaves like San Francisco and Seattle. Gone are the grids of cubicles and pinstriped suits, replaced by open floor plans, untucked shirts, and even luxuries like billiards tables, arcade games, and a beer tap or two.

A workplace peppered with amenities like these would have been unthinkable – perhaps laughable – only a couple decades prior. But baby boomers shouldn’t be so surprised. The driving force behind this trend is all too familiar: Competition for intellectual capital. Now when leading businesses are seeking top talent, a generous bonus or extra week of vacation won’t do the trick. A modern (and lavish) workplace is a necessity, too.

Let’s look at some key examples. (And it’s worth noting one of these two organizations is outside of the tech industry.) The Huffington Post – the New York City-based online media giant – has designated “nap rooms” for employees. Workers are encouraged to take a chunk of time and rest up during busy days. Sound excessive? Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington doesn’t think so. “Arianna: Office Nap Rooms Will Soon Be As Common As Conference Rooms Naps,” reads one news article headline about the amenities.

In reporting this piece, I spoke with a colleague’s son, Kevin, a millennial working for a U.S.-based software company. Kevin notes his company’s offices feature a free snack bar and ping pong table. But Kevin doesn’t use them often – he works from home.

“For a lot of millennials, myself included, the ability to work remotely is the greatest perk of all,” Kevin says. “Modern offices are great – but so is no commute.”

In working from home, Kevin and his fellow millennials may have the best offices of all: Their couch, kitchen, and dog are just a few steps away.

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Ladies, How is Your Pay Gap?

Imagine a shopping spree in your favorite tech store, sporting good shop or the local grocery.  After taking time to assemble a basket of worthy goods, it’s off to the checkout for the next and final stop. The cashier rings up your acquisitions and promptly informs you that there is a surcharge… because you are a woman.

Unheard of!  While it is highly unlikely this would happen anywhere in the civilized world, it does beg a more serious question.

If women pay similar rates for goods and services as men, then why are women often not paid similar rates for the same services rendered?

Gender pay gap is not new news and the battle for equality has been fought for years. Many questions can be asked… and answered. Which occupations have the greatest gap, which sectors have had success closing the gap, which countries outperform others?

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Women working full-time in the U.S. last year earned 82.5 cents for every dollar a man earned, according to the Labor Department’s weekly wage data. There are disparities across regions and occupations.” The largest gender gap is in the legal profession where women’s weekly earnings are a mere 56.7% of men’s.

The table below concisely illustrates the salary differential among select careers.  Curiously, construction, a field traditionally dominated by men for years, boasts the smallest gap –but a gap nonetheless.


Certainly one might not expect Hollywood, long considered a bastion of progressivism, to have any role in gender pay gaps, yet that is not the case. The leaked emails from Sony Pictures proved to be quite an embarrassment when it was revealed that the A-list actresses in the Oscar nominated film American Hustle major were paid less than their A-list male counterparts.  Actress Patricia Arquette vocalized her dismay on Hollywood wage inequality while accepting her Academy Award for her role in Boyhood.

Geographically, there is a significant gap in the, well, gaps. Sadly, but astutely reported by Business Insider, “There’s no country in the world where women earn more than men.”  Especially, in South Korea where the world gender pay disparity was the greatest.  This infopic, from Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s 2016 “Transforming World Atlas” report is a snapshot summary of wage inequality from 2011 through 2014.

New Zealand, with the narrowest pay gap in the world, still manages to pay women 5.6% less than men for performing the same work.


After reviewing such discrepancies one can’t help but wonder… what is being done about gender parity?

The United States passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 when women were earning 59% of men’s earnings. According to a recent White House fact sheet, by 2013 women were paid an average of 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. However, the report outlines several new initiatives to end wage disparity such as passing the Paycheck Fairness Act and establishing a National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force.

Optimistically, similar programs will be deployed worldwide. Let’s be confident and hope the next set of statistics demonstrates significant progress.

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Why Outsource?

Mowing the lawn, housework, car repair and general maintenance. The aforementioned essential domestic tasks are likely performed in millions of households around the world.  But who is actually doing them?

Busy schedules, long work weeks and family obligations have led many of us to outsource these time consuming chores.   Maybe we simply don’t enjoy taking on these responsibilities or, worse, perhaps we lack the basic ability to complete them. Either way, millions of people rely on resources outside the home to perform tasks we rarely consider one of our core competencies. Limited by time, we earn our living doing what we do best and outsource the services we are less efficient at accomplishing. All the more reason to increasingly outsource as our lives become more complex.

Equally so, in business.

outsource graph

Last year, the Everest Group, a management consulting and research firm that advises clients on the development and execution of  business services and global IT strategies, provided market insight indicating an accelerating growth of outsourcing, partly due to increased activity in newer services segments.

Why are companies delegating processes to third party vendors? Outsourcing allows businesses to keep focused on their core business, lower their administrative expenses and increase their operating income.

Ranking highly among frequently outsourced business processes is supply chain management, often not a core competency for numerous enterprises. Driven by high potential for cost reduction, flexibility and execution of best practices businesses are increasingly leveraging BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) services, such as Accenture, IBM and SDI to gain competitive advantage.

Further fueling and facilitating this growth are digital platforms.

In its Technology Vision 2016 report, Accenture, a global professional services and consulting company, forecasts that 25% of the world’s economy will be digital by 2020. TMT Industry Insider, providing a succinct summary of the report said, “The global consulting firm contends that we are witnessing a major technology revolution, specifically a digital revolution. It’s a revolution of emerging ‘digital platform’ comprised of cloud services, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, predictive analytics and intelligent automation.

These platforms transform and replace traditional business processes in areas such as finance & accounting, HR, marketing, procurement, supply chain and more. To quickly leverage these digital solutions, companies increasingly look to outsource traditional in-house functions to third party providers in what are referred to as BPO transactions.”

Not surprising. Digitization facilitates the execution of seamless business processes.

In a joint effort, Supply Chain Digest and JDA Software deconstructed the supply chain process to identify which sub-processes gained the greatest value from digitization-related technologies.  As represented in the visual below, published as Supply Chain Digest’s graphic of the week,

graphic week

supply chain visibility – the ability to track products or services from the point of origin to final destination –tops the list. Advanced analytics is a near second. The proliferation, availability and analysis of raw data allows companies to swiftly make better business decisions.

At SDI, leveraging these innovative technologies and techniques is a priority. As you focus on your business strengths let us partner with you to proficiently improve your bottom line.

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STEM: Higher Demand and Higher Salaries

Earlier this year I eagerly shared my beliefs regarding the importance of engaging students earlier in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) studies. Subsequently, I found myself increasingly curious about the global awareness, coverage and impact of a STEM education.

This topic is a particular passion of mine – since technological innovation and growth is the foundation for advances in healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, climate change and so much more.  Aside from potential worldwide recognition for groundbreaking progress in any of the aforementioned fields, the salary gap between STEM and non-STEM graduates further underscores the necessity, yet shortage, of key skills. The math is simple – STEM pay is higher.

stem grads

The 2016 graphic above, from Priceonomics paints a rosy picture for recent college graduates who have pursued studies in STEM specialties. But, are there sufficient programs and are students participating?

Immediately north of New York City in Westchester County, among the highest-income counties in the U.S., schools and businesses are collaborating to prepare for the 21st-century workforce. As reported in “Embracing STEM,” a recent 914INC. Magazine piece, “Across the region, local schools and nonprofits are increasingly investing in STEM-oriented curricula and training, with the goal of creating science-savvy, career-ready graduates. And they’re not alone: Local industry is investing in STEM, too, training residents and employees with the goal of shaping a capable, cutting-edge workforce.”

Almost 500 miles south of N.Y.C., in West Virginia’s Doddridge County (listed among the lower-income counties in the U.S.) the focus on STEM is comparable. Their annual report announced a partnership with West Virginia University to increase student exposure to and performance in STEM disciplines.  Locally, the schools have been relating and applying STEM principles to an array of subjects ranging from livestock quality assurance training to robotics and rocketry.

Outside the United States, STEM’s indispensable skill set continues to be coveted as well. In the United Kingdom, young men and women entering university opting for STEM studies have the choicest career prospects. As reported by Britain’s Independent, of the top 10 degrees subjects to study for the highest paying jobs, 7 of them were STEM related, with the top two being engineering. Salaries notwithstanding, the lack of STEM graduates may easily affect the UK’s ability to compete globally.  The graphic below, from a teacher led STEM challenge in the UK, crisply illustrates the issue.

uk shortage stem.jpg


Of course, in the current information-based and deeply technological society in which we live the STEM skill set is a valuable asset to expand growth and prosperity. And if higher salary is an incentive, so be it.

As the 914INC. Magazine article succinctly summarized: “Ask a handful of local high-school or college students what career advice they hear most, and they’ll likely cite this refrain: ‘Want a good job? Study STEM!’”


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Fraud, Are You at Risk?

Fraud.  While we won’t suggest this wicked transgression is prevalent, it is pervasive across numerous dimensions.

A few examples?  Tax evasion, pyramid schemes, politico misbehavior, internet phishing, identity theft, and even misconduct within the supply chain. More specifically, the procurement component of an enterprise’s supply chain is arguably the most vulnerable since millions of dollars are at stake. Anybody or business may be susceptible… or even complicit. Even the recent Brexit (the British exit from the European Union (EU)) is undergoing a fraud investigation to remove thousands of signatures from the referendum.

Although fraud may occur within any component of the procurement process, several process steps are rife with opportunity.  The graphic below is a high level view of the procurement process, with the yellow highlighted boxes representing the components most exposed to fraud.

process chevron chevrons procurement


Collusion during the sourcing process may lead to price fixing. In this scenario, an employee may collude with two competing suppliers to fix a price of a commodity above what is considered fair value. The buyer may choose the “better” of the two inflated prices –both higher than fair value– and ultimately collect a kick back. Financially, the complicit suppliers benefit as well.

A more common type of front-end procurement fraud is an employee’s inappropriate acceptance of extravagant gifts, travel or entertainment in return for lucrative sourcing contracts. Widely considered bribery, this behavior results in sourcing non-competitively priced commodities.

Accounts Payable

Commodity quality collusion is another example. An employee may collude with a corrupt supplier to accept a lower quality or non-compliant commodity than was specified in the sourcing contract. For example, the sourcing contract may indicate a printer paper with a heavier weight and brighter sheen. Upon physical delivery of the commodity, the receiver knowingly accepts an inferior quality product in return for payment.

A further example of deception in back office processes may occur in supplier billing. A company may have contracted to purchase business envelopes at $.10 per item but the supplier bills $.11. Small, incremental overbilling of materials adds up quickly. Or a subcontractor may overstate billable hours worked.

Fraud detection

Certainly, countless enterprises are not subject to such egregious behavior.  For those intending to mitigate such practices, implementing data analytic techniques is a necessity to expose fraudulent conduct… or transaction errors.  Data analytics may prove to be a CPO’s handiest tool to avoid process abuse.

  • Price spike: Analytics uses purchase patterns to identify fraudulent acquisitions. Offenders may begin falsely billing in small amounts to determine if their illegitimate billings have been detected. Once they notice a sufficient number of these lower amounts are undetected –and paid- they up the ante with a “spike” purchase of a substantially larger amount, resulting in payment to the supplier.
  • Decimal error: Not necessarily fraud, a misplaced decimal error in a transaction might result in a significant, errant overpayment
  • Round dollar: Generally, transactions end in pennies, when considering costs plus taxes and fees.  A round dollar invoice is often considered an indicator of falsified invoices.

In each of these scenarios robust analytic techniques would recognize the errors and automatically alert appropriate individuals, thereby serving the dual benefits of saving cost and uncovering illicit activity.

At SDI, our portfolio of analytic tools and our technology-driven processes can help you manage indirect/tail-end spend effectively as well as mitigate fraudulent behavior.

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Decades of Women’s Leadership

Highlighting the successful entrepreneurial members of the Zenith Group –a chapter of the Women Presidents’ Organization – resumes with our last in a series of seven. It is a privilege to present Jayne Millard, Chairman and CEO of Turtle & Hughes.
millard final


Jayne Millard,

Chairman and CEO,

Turtle and Hughes



What: 1977, 1 ½ and 8.3 million. Certainly an eclectic and expansive range of numbers. Nonetheless, all figure prominently in the growth of women-owned businesses. According to a comprehensive business report published by American Express Open on the state of women-owned businesses, the United States Census reported 8.3M women-owned business in the Unites States in 2012.

Remarkably, between the years of 1997 and 2012 women-owned business grew 1 ½ times the national average (54% vs. 37%), so it’s hard to believe the U.S. Census didn’t even begin an accounting of women-owned firms until 1977.

Yet, Turtle & Hughes, one of the largest independent electrical and industrial distributors, was managed by a woman as far back as the 1940s. Currently, Turtle & Hughes’ Chairman and CEO Jayne Millard proudly helms this business which has been ranked as one of the top 50 women-owned business – of any kind – for more than a decade.

Co-founded by Millard’s great-grandfather over 90 years ago, it has grown to over 850 employees and 19 locations nationwide.  They serve the commercial construction, industrial, automation and utility markets. Turtle & Hughes differentiates itself with Power Distribution and Engineering Services, Energy Retrofitting, Industrial Infrastructure Consulting and Communications, among its other services. Both family- and employee-owned, Turtle & Hughes ranks among the nation’s top 16 electrical distribution companies.

Turtle & Hughes Integrated Supply (THIS), a division of Turtle & Hughes, is a supply chain services company.  It services Fortune 100 companies in the manufacturing sector. Operating nationwide and in Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico, THIS has been widely recognized as one of the industry leaders in providing world-class integrated supply programs.

Millard, a recipient of the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, has held positions at Shearson Lehman Brothers and RCM Capital Management, eventually joining the family business in 1991 and ultimately rising to Chairman in 2016.

However, it is not all business, all the time, for Millard. After beginning her career at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance she is now a member of their board. She is also a member of the Women’s Presidents Organization and the Committee of 200 renowned for fostering, celebrating and advancing women’s leadership in Business.

Always a strong advocate for women’s advancement in the workforce, she believes that women develop into leaders through mentoring and sponsorship by company leaders. Corporations need to set a path for advancement by making role models visible.  Ms. Millard has found that, most often, women have all the talent and knowledge required; what they need is sponsorship to bring opportunities into focus.  Corporations are doing a great job, but there is still much work to be done in accelerating culture change with progressive corporate policies around work-life balance.

Overcoming Obstacles: Our biggest challenge lies in managing our growth, adapting to the demands of constantly changing technology, and attracting top talent with the versatility to serve our customer’s complex requirements. As an organization, we focus on service by empowering our employees to develop a highly responsive and solution-based community.  Turtle & Hughes sustains a culture of innovation. This means that we look ahead to the next evolution of our business.  We don’t just react to change around us; we try to set change in motion by focusing on innovation.

Encouraging Words from Jayne:  “There is so much disruption in industry from technology, big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.  The best way to manage this disruption is with a diverse culture that allows for different ideas, experiences and knowledge to come together in an inclusive way.  Gender diversity is a critical piece of that.  As a woman-owned and women-led business, I have gender parity on my Board of Directors and work hard every day to build diversity and inclusion into our corporate culture.  Women are great innovators and bring the skills necessary to navigate these disruptive times.”